An Cailín Rua
It had been coming for a while, but last week, I finally quit Twitter. Closing a social media account is no big deal, most people might say (and who uses Twitter anyway?), but bidding farewell to the platform and with it, a community carved out over ten years of usage was an oddly emotional moment.
Like many others, I’d been seriously rethinking my online habits and trying to claim some time back for more constructive pursuits (like sleeping). But sometimes a push is needed, and that push came for me when watching a prominent rape trial being feverishly dissected across Twitter. After a recession, two general elections, Brexit, the US election, a myriad of social uprisings here and abroad and of course, countless GAA matches, there were lots of reasons to exit stage left. But that was what broke me.
When it comes to sexual assault or rape cases, it is frequently the ‘alleged’ victims, not their perpetrators, who are placed on trial. Nowhere more than on social media.
I have written here countless times on issues affecting women offline and online. But there is nothing like a sexual assault trial – or an abortion debate, for that matter – to bring out the very worst in people – offline and online. There is nothing like either of these topics to bring every kind of misogynistic, sexist dinosaur out of the woodwork to justify the ‘laddish’ disrespect of women. There is nothing else that results in women being branded as ‘whores’, ‘sluts’ who were ‘asking for it’. Sadly, the Dark Ages are alive and well in Ireland and particularly on Twitter where the lack of filter encourages such misogynistic discourse; laced with scorn and devoid of empathy. Last week I screenshotted over 40 examples of derogatory, victim-blaming tweets, meaning to use some as examples, but I can’t actually face reading them again.
For what other crimes, apart from sexual assault or rape, is there an almost automatic assumption that the victim may be maliciously lying? I challenge you to name one. Yet is there a crime more vicious, invasive and traumatising for a woman than rape? It is little wonder that it is under-reported. It’s not hard to see why the victim of such a crime might want to avoid re-traumatising herself by inflicting on herself a trial where every single action and word and item of clothing is scrutinised, right down to her underwear being exhibited in court.
Even worse, the daily media reports of cross-examination; all designed to imply the victim is somehow to blame. What was she wearing? How much alcohol had she consumed? Was she ‘attracted to celebrities’? Daily digests, with every minute detail reported as if for consumption for enjoyment. Food for the voyeurs, for the vultures, the Twitterati to rake over.
And there are people – apparently in their right minds – that suggest that many women make this stuff up and subject themselves to this horrendous process for vengeance or for kicks. Get real, lads.
The idea that false reporting is widespread is a proven myth. Given the negative and often debilitating effects that a rape or sexual assault can have on the physical, reproductive, sexual and mental health of survivors, it is high time the narrative changed and that the focus of both the criminal justice system the media and indeed, the Twitter-using public shifts dramatically towards hearing their voices and upholding their rights.
Me, I am sick of it. There comes a point where you don’t need reminding anymore just how far we still have to go.
Trial by media is bad, but trial by Twitter is something else altogether. Especially when the alleged perpetrator is not the one being placed on the stand. And with a highly contentious referendum – where women’s rights and safety are apparently, once again, fair game – hurtling down the tracks, as a woman, removing oneself from the Twitter arena at this point can only be considered as an act of self-preservation.
Credit to those women still fighting the good fight online, but real life is enough for me. I’m done.
An Cailín Rua